NORTH CLARENDON — The Vermont Disability Law Project is pressing the Mill River Unified Union School District about emails sent by Director of Student Services Coral Stone that, the Law Project said, instructed teachers to break the law.

“Their response is not completely satisfactory,” Nancy Breiden, director of the project for Vermont Legal Aid, said about the district. Breiden said her organization would be waiting until March 15 to re-evaluate the actions of the district and then decide whether to pursue legal action.

The organization sent an email Feb. 11 to Superintendent David Younce stating that Stone’s repeated requests to a group of teachers in the district violated Vermont’s Individuals with Disabilities Act and the State Board of Education Rules, which give parents the right to request an evaluation of their children to determine whether they have a disability.

In an Oct. 4 email, Younce specifically instructed staff members that an instruction by Stone had Younce’s backing.

In an email to staff by Stone on Dec. 7, in which she “respectfully” asked recipients “not to share beyond this group,” before explaining that the district didn’t have enough staff to conduct all special education evaluations.

So, she wrote, teachers ought to convince parents not to ask for them, at least for awhile.

“I bring this situation to your attention because, as EST Coordinators and as building-leaders who often interface with parents who make requests for special education testing, I’d like you to please make every effort to curtail evaluation requests coming from your ESTs for the time-being,” Stone wrote. “I expect this moratorium to last perhaps through mid-February ... please do not make any kind of formal announcement to your EST or to your staff that we aren’t accepting requests for any new evaluations (as this would violate the law in a number of ways), but it would be great if you could help teams and teachers devise interim supports that students can receive until such time that we get ahead of our backlog.”

Stone added that she would inform staff when they would be able to start conducting evaluations again.

“At the current time, we are essentially ‘maxed out’ on the number of student evaluations that we can reasonably conduct,” Stone said.

Later, on Jan. 1, Stone wrote to the group again, reiterating the need to keep requests for student evaluations down and their situation quiet.

“Please recall that, unofficially, I’ve had to put a moratorium on special education evaluations,” Stone wrote. “As a reminder, I ask you not to communicate this information beyond those listed on this email, but until we restore our necessary staffing capacity and clear the log of evaluations that we currently have, all new evaluations are on hold.”

{p style=”margin-bottom: 0in;”}In a Feb. 12 email to the group, Stone said the district had been contacted by the Vermont Disability Law Project and she did not intend, in her previous emails, to “depart from our Child Find Obligations.”

“I wished to address the backlog of evaluations,” Stone wrote. “I write to affirm that any request for evaluation, either internal or from a parent, shall be pursued consistent with our obligations under Vermont and Federal Law.”

After previously offering no comment on the emails because the communications were internal, Younce on Tuesday denied the district offended the law.

“As a district, our work, expectations and priorities have been and will be to take the best and most appropriate actions for our students, our community and our system,” Younce said in an email. “With that, we have and will consistently operate within the constraints of district policy and the law.”

Breiden said she contacted the Agency of Education, but had not heard back yet.

“The email was poorly phrased,” said Pietro Lynn, of Lynn, Lynn, Blackman and Manitsky, the Burlington law firm representing the Mill River district. “We regret the choice of language ... we have communicated with our employees that they must comply with the law.”

Ted Fisher, director of communications and legislative affairs at the Vermont Agency of Education, said the agency couldn’t offer a comment on the matter.


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